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Centralized Power is Always a Danger

By       Message Paul Cohen       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink

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Lord Acton is probably best known for his comment, in an 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, that Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In our own day, David Brin took exception to Lord Acton in noting that:

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I t is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.

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No matter which interpretation is accepted, it seems clear that both of these men were worried by power and its potential for abuse. The potential and even the likelihood for the abuse of great power was not original ideas for either man but come to us from ancient times. It certainly was a concern to the founders of this country and no doubt was a central concern in their drafting of our Constitution. In an 1813 letter to John Melish, Thomas Jefferson observed that an honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens. Nonetheless, Jefferson must have had concern for dishonest men since he played a key role in authoring our system of checks and balances for the very purpose of restricting the power of any single person in government.

More recent presidents have also expressed concern about the potential for abuse of power by individuals in government; Robert Kennedy observed that the problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use - of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.

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A concerned citizen and former mathematician/engineer now retired and living in rural Maine.

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